Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Like Sands through the Hourglass

This entry is inspired in large part by the conversation in comments responding to my "Back in the Saddle (Sigh)" entry of yesterday, as well as the thinking I've been doing about Professor B.'s meditations regarding open marriages. In comments, Sharleen writes:
"When I "get older," will I suddenly understand the restrictions of monogamy
and embrace something else? Will I unabashedly feel that I must respond a
certain way to men, and that someone who disagrees with me who is younger is
simply under the naivete of youth? Will my outlook on sex change so radically
that I won't still appreciate it as a private affair that I don't want to share
with people who aren't my partner? Is this all really because I'm not "older"
Sharleen goes on to (rightfully) express a discomfort with feeling like her attitudes about these issues don't "count" as much because of her age. I guess I'll respond to the age thing first. When I think back to what I believed about relationships in my early 20s, and to the kind of relationships I had and what my expectations for those relationships were, I think that my view was much more limited than my view now. Even then I was pretty cynical about the idea of finding the one and only soulmate that the universe had determined would be mine, but at the same time, I really did believe that there was such a thing as finding the "right" person, and all of my relationships (however transient) had to do with testing out whether the other person fit my list of things that would make somebody "right" for me. (Incidentally, the list was quite, quite long at that time.) When I met my ex - with whom I lived in sin (hee!) - I really thought to myself, "Ok, well he is 'right,' and I'm 25 and now the thing I should do is 'settle down.' " When that ended in March 2003, my idea that there is a "right" person radically changed. The one I thought was right was decidedly not right. What I thought was lasting did not last. So where did that leave me?

I guess what I believe now is that what matters at the end of the day is not whether it's "right" or "wrong" but whether both people are committed to being together. If both people are committed, they find a way to make that work - whether that means having an open marriage or being monogamous or whatever, whether that means the man is the primary caregiver of the children, whether that means.... well, whatever. You get the point. A person doesn't actually have to be "right" in order for one to commit to him. Both people need to be on the same page. And that, incidentally, I think may be harder to find than finding "the one." Because somebody can be the perfect person for you and be completely uncommitted to you, or one person can be more committed than the other person, etc.

Because I've come to see things this way, I'm more willing to try people out whom I never would have given a chance in my early 20s. I'm more accepting that not every relationship will fit the idealized definition of relationships in my head. Also, though, and paradoxically, I'm more reticent to become deeply involved with somebody who has not proved himself to be of the same mind with me about commitment things. I'm reticent to "fall in love" without thinking about the practical consequences of doing so. Finally, one thing about age that does work to change one's perspective, at least for women, is that I need sex now in a way that I did not need it when I was 23. Don't get me wrong, I've always liked the sex, but over the past couple of years it has become much more central to my everyday happiness. And because that is the case, I am much less picky about the long-term potential of relationships in which I have sex. I'm not claiming that this would be the case for every woman, but it's definitely been the case for me. What I'm talking about here is not "making love" - I'm talking about plain old fucking, and sometimes plain old fucking is worth whatever idiocy the "wrong" guy can dish out. (Aside: I wonder if there's a connection between this and the fact that Prof. B's conquest is younger than she is, Freud is younger than I am, and (I think) CB is younger than Profgrrrrl.....)

Now, having said all of this, I'll also add that I don't think I could do the open marriage thing. I don't think it's in me. I don't think I'd want to have sex with my partner and somebody else or more than just one somebody else. I'm not against it, and it's not about it being "a private affair that I don't want to share with people who aren't my partner." Actually, it's about the fact that I think I would be unbelievably jealous and insecure as a result. As much as I'm "crazy" in my personal life, I'm actually pretty conventional. The difference between me now, though, and me 10 years ago is that I can see where my attitudes about these things could easily change. What's right for me at one moment isn't necessarily always going to be right for me. I'm not saying that I didn't have a sense of that before, but I don't think I really believed it in the way that I do now.

At the end of the day, I don't think Sharleen (or anybody younger, for that matter, but, Sharleen has become the signifier of younger in this post, for better or worse) is "wrong" or "naive" for whatever they think about all of this stuff with relationships. What I think, though, is that as one gains more experience (which, incidentally, has little to do with age, and, actually, little to do with fucking random people) relationship things become less black and white. Also, I think as one has one's heart broken enough times one becomes a lot more reluctant to risk that emotional hurt, and thus can make ridiculous choices in order to avoid that hurt.

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